Writing prompts and exercises can be the perfect way to move your writing project forward. Some of our members have shared their favourite writing prompts to spark your creativity.
In her book, Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose mentions a short story by Paul Bowles in which a timid tourist packs “two small overnight bags full of maps, sun lotions, and medicines.” Her comment: What very different conclusions we might form about a man who carries a bag filled with dice, syringes, and a handgun. Your challenge: choose three objects at random—not necessarily something you would put in an overnight bag—put them in your character’s bag, send them away, and see what happens.
About Michelle Barker:
For more about Michelle and her work click here.
Go outside. Sit on your front step, or your back step, or go somewhere you can get to in under 20 minutes. A bench in a park is a great location. Commit to staying there at least one hour, preferably two. Take a notebook or a laptop and sit. Write slowly, one thought or observation at a time. Include detail. Don’t say a bird, say a robin. Say “a man in a shirt the colour of sidewalk after a rain.” Observe. Feel. Make notes. Repeat. Preferably every day. Preferably at the same hour. Preferably for at least a week.
About Michelle Poirier Brown:
Michelle Poirier Brown is an internationally published poet and performer, currently living on the traditional unceeded territories of the syilx peoples, in Vernon, BC. She is nêhiyaw-iskwêw and a citizen of the Métis Nation. Her poem “Wake” won PRISM international’s Earle Birney Prize in 2019. The song cycle, “The Length of a Day” (Jeffrey Ryan, composer), premiered in 2021. Her work has appeared in Arc, CV2, The Greensboro Review, Grain, Emrys Journal, Vallum, and several anthologies. A feminist activist, Michelle won a landmark human rights case establishing reasonable accommodation in the workplace for breastfeeding women. Retired from careers as a speech writer, conflict analyst, and federal treaty negotiator, she now writes full-time, enjoys the produce of her permaculture garden, and has taken up birdwatching.
Michelle's debut book of poetry You Might Be Sorry You Read This was published this year by University of Alberta Press in the Robert Kroetsch Series and is available for purchase through your local bookstore. More details: https://michellepoirierbrown.ca/you-might-be-sorry-you-read-this/
Her chapbook Intimacies was accepted for publication by Jack Pine Press and will be launched in Saskatoon on October 7.
Fold a piece of lined paper in half, lengthwise.
List ten nouns on left side of the fold, starting at the top line and then every other line.
Turn it over so you can’t see the nouns and make a list of ten verbs on the right side of the page, starting on the top line and every other line.
Open the page and make sentences or one long one, connecting nouns and verbs opposite.
Useful when stuck or when beginning, especially if you use words connected to subject of poem or story.
About Susan Andrews Grace:
Hypatia’s Wake, sixth book of poetry, to be released by Inanna Publications September 2022.
Writing Through Doubt, Oxygen Art Centre – an online cross-discipline seminar for writers and visual artists who experience doubt in their work. Writing in this class will be for the sake of process; it does not require experience in writing. Suitable both for those emerging and those established in their practices. The cross-discipline aspect adds perspective not usually available to those working alone. Seminars will include readings, exercises, in-class writing, and discussion.
One of the greatest gifts my writing mentor Stella Harvey gave me was the suggestion to read your work aloud, just to yourself, during the editing process. Taking your work off the page and into another realm will help you quickly see errors and help you write and revise realistic dialogue. Printing your work and holding it in your hand can also help with the revision process; anything you can do to change your initial format will help you see things differently and move your writing forward.
About Jenn Ashton:
Considering herself a writer from the early age of 6, Jenn Ashton was first published at age 14 and writes in many genres and forms; from children's books, to newspaper editorials, music magazine columns, course and training materials and academic and literary journals. Currently working on numerous works, Jenn has also just completed a year as a Teaching Assistant in the Simon Fraser University's Writer's Studio, and will begin studying History at the University of Oxford in 2022. She is also the Writer in Residence at the British Columbia History Magazine for 2021/22 with her column "Sharing Space: Reclaiming the Indigenous History of BC".
Jenn was born and raised in British Columbia's lower mainland and interior. In her youth, Jenn began travelling and lived throughout Canada and the US, before coming back to settle in the lower mainland in the mid-80s. She attended Simon Fraser University as a mature student, while she homeschooled her daughter and completed a five year volunteer term for the Canadian Red Cross. For the next 2 decades Jenn worked, volunteered and researched, continuing her education at SFU and Harvard while working in the non-profit sector at the management level. After a further decade in the music industry, Jenn began working as a professional visual artist in North Vancouver in 2015, drawing on a lifetime of adventure, which is now also reflected in her writing.
Jenn is a member of The Writers Union of Canada, The Creative Nonfiction Collective Society, The North Shore Authors Collection, Access Copyright, The Indigenous Literary Studies Association, The Indigenous Editors Association and a past Director of The Federation of British Columbia Writers. Jenn is an Authenticity Reader for Penguin/RandomHouse U.S.A., and has recently completed work for Knopf Doubleday, The Royal Society of Chemistry, Sasquatch Books, and Cengage Canada.
For more about Jenn and her work click here.
Clearing Space for Creativity: an invitation
I’ve found this prompt helpful when feeling distracted/down/anxious.
Step One: Clear the Path: Set your timer for 5 min. Write a list about what’s hurting; what’s holding you back; what’s missing in your life. Maybe you are carrying burdens, brokenness, sorrow. Write it all out. At the end of five min, pause. Breathe. Then, turn to a new page. Your page will hold your burdens. You can return to them later.
Step Two: Now, take another 5 min. Write a letter inviting healing into your practice. Simple abundance works! Maybe brew a fav cup of tea; or choose a pen you love; or write in a genre that makes you laugh. Walk to a place with a view. Maybe your list will contain rituals, objects, actions, that soothe, serve, and support. Try it and see what happens. I’d love to hear about your experience.
To share your experience with Renée
About Renée Sarojini Saklikar:
Renée Saklikar’s ground-breaking poetry book about the bombing of Air India Flight 182, children of air india, won the Canadian Authors Association Prize for Poetry and was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her book Listening to the Bees, co-authored with Dr. Mark Winston, won the 2019 Gold Medal Independent Publishers Book Award (Environment/Ecology). Trained as a lawyer, Saklikar is an instructor at SFU and VCC. She was the first Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey (2015–2018) and was the 2017 UBC Okanagan Writer in Residence. Curator of the poetry series Lunch Poems at SFU and the Poetry Phone (1-833-POEMS-4-U), she has seen her work adapted for opera, visual art and dance. THOT J BAP is her sci-fi poetry epic, ten years in the making.
Writing prompts and exercises can be the perfect way to move your summer writing project forward. Through August and into September, some of our members will share some of their favourite writing prompts to spark your creativity.
This week's writing prompt comes from poet Rob Taylor.
The following is how I’ve prepared for almost every poem I’ve written in the last five years:
For twenty minutes, read a book you love.
Go outside with the book, a notebook, and a camping chair (if you’re in a noisy neighbourhood, earplugs can be essential, too – not to eliminate all sound, but to dull speaking voices).
Walk to a destination that’s at least ten minutes away. Ideally somewhere quiet like a park. Don’t wear headphones. Just listen to the rhythm of your walking and breathing.
When you arrive, sit and look at what’s around you. Write about something you can hear or smell or hold in your hands. Start small and see what grows from it.
If nothing’s coming to you, read the book some more and then walk again. Repeat as necessary!
At any point in this process, if a line comes to you, stop and write it down. Stay in that place/moment for as long as it’s productive, then move on.
Susan Olding’s essays are collected in Big Reader and Pathologies: A Life in Essays. She also writes poetry and fiction. Find out more about Susan here: www.susanolding.com
Gail is the author of The Cure for Death by Lightning and The Almost Wife among many other best-selling novels. She offers FBCW members a discount on blue pencil sessions and fiction mentorships. Use the discount code BCWRITERS. For more, visit her website: www.gailanderson-dargatz.ca
Traditional "Roses are red / Violets are blue" poetry has undergone a transformative shift. While the Canadian poetry scene respects the time-honoured stylistic conventions of the past, it also embraces the use of inventive styles. This evolution is welcoming of other disciplines—some quite unexpected. I therefore would like to share my poetic practices in terms of how I weave these intersections into my craft and how these connections have contributed to global causes—a poet’s superpower!
Poetry does not have to be married to poetry. It can partner with different fields without being gimmicky. Rather, this encourages a broader audience by attracting people who don't usually read poetry but appreciate the commonalities associated with various disciplines such as music, science, math, and medicine.
Two points should be emphasized here: First, I'm not just referring to poems about these subjects but additionally to poems that are physically transformed into the essence of these domains. Second, while I have composed ekphrastic poetry (i.e., poetry describing works of art such as sculptures, paintings, etc.), which is intersectional in its own right, I nevertheless would like to focus here on visual/concrete poems.
Poetry need not be associated with the written word in stanza form alone. There is poetry in music, and I am not referring to song lyrics. For instance, I wrote my poem, “Cool Jazz”(1), onto music staves with treble and bass clefs in order to resemble a page of sheet music. Meaningful to me as a pianist, my hope was to have this piece resonate with other musicians. If you'll excuse the pun, it did strike a chord and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Worcester Review.
I've written many science poems which are a blend of traditional and non-traditional forms. An illustrative example is “Balanced + Well Well → Balanced”(2) which is comprised of a series of two-column, two-line stanzas. Each stanza consists of chemical equations along with their corresponding rhymed transliterations, transforming science into poetry and vice versa:
Of course, sometimes an infusion of humour can draw people toward science as in my poem, “Witches' Brew”(3): “Incantations cackled over a roiling cauldron / stirred by warty hands – / the bubbling brew not so sinister a potion / as the three black and midnight hags(4) intended”. This tongue-in-cheek poem uses science to disprove the ill effects of the ingredients added to the witches’ cauldron in Macbeth.
Math is another area where poetry has the potential to attract people who might be intimidated by it. For “The Fickle Nature of the Parabola”(5), I wrote my poem in the shape of two parabolas graphed onto a Cartesian plane. Although the poem was traditional in the sense that it rhymed, its format and content were explanatory, teaching a lesson in algebra and geometry.
The intersection of poetry and psychology is profound. Two of my poems that immediately come to mind are “Ghosts”(6) and “Ransom Note”(7). The former, an exercise in negative space art, is written in a square shape wrapped around the image of a ghost at its centre. “Ghosts” deals with the memories of people who have passed on and muses, “Like them, we too will become shadows – / our unfamiliar images haunting / the yellowed photos / of someone else's dust- covered album.”
“Ransom Note” is composed of coloured letters cut out of magazines and pasted onto a poetic kidnap note sent by Depression. It alerts people that their mental state can literally hold them hostage. Perhaps psychologists might consider using this type of poetry to supplement counselling.
Writing and translating poetry in six languages provides me with multiple opportunities for poetic intersections. It affords access to a larger readership as well. While I generally write a poem in one language at a time, I prefer to be more linguistically playful. For instance, I enjoy writing poems with alternating non-English, calligraphic-type alphabets which require a line to be read from left to right and then the next line from right to left. Another technique I like to employ is side-by-side translation formatted into columns, each in a different language, as in my poem, “Incertidumbre / Uncertainty / Incertitude”(8).
Poetry is a means of remembering past atrocities. Philosopher George Santayana's saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” epitomizes the intersection of poetry and history. Accordingly, two of my long poems deal with the history of social injustices never to be forgotten. “Misogyny at Its Best”(9) examines the brutal treatment of women spanning the years from the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem witch trials: “I implore ye, good sirs! I am innocent! / Do not thus seal my fate! / Ye know me not! By what leave / possess ye so much hate?” “The Devil”(10) chronicles the Holocaust and the valiant struggles of its victims: “yet smoke still belched from crematoria / with tell-tale acrid smell, / unable to camouflage the flames / of those who burned in hell.”
One of the most important poetic intersections, though, is the convergence of poetry and advocacy. I would encourage writers to support charitable causes with their craft whenever possible. Not only can they contribute their work to peace exhibits, but they can seek out socially conscious publishers. Instead of providing payment in the form of cash or complimentary contributor copies, these publishers earmark payments to be directed to various charities.
Why not proudly represent Canada via these humanitarian poetic intersections? The opportunities are plentiful. In fact, my poetry has helped support global causes such as medical aid, animal welfare, scientific research, literacy, and child advocacy.
Although poetry is considered a solitary art, it does not have to be so. A poet's reach extends far beyond the pen or computer. The possibilities of poetic convergences both for the entertainment and betterment of societies around the world are many. Perhaps these intersections are somewhat unexpected, but therein lies their appeal.
1 Shards of Crystal (book by Fern G. Z. Carr), Silver Bow Publishing – New Westminster BC,
Canada; The Worcester Review – Worcester MA, USA; The Art of Music – Del Mar CA, USA
2 mgversion2 – Le Reposoir, Haute-Savoie, France
3 White Wall Review – Toronto ON, Canada
4 Macbeth (4.1)
5 Windsor Review – Windsor ON, Canada
6 Montana Mouthful – Helena MT, USA
7 The London Reader – London, England
8 Triadae Magazine – Madrid, Spain; and Toulouse, France
9 Legal Studies Forum – Morgantown WV, USA
10 Poetry Super Highway – Los Angeles CA, USA
Fern G. Z. Carr is a lawyer, teacher, and poet. She composes poetry in six languages, including Mandarin, and has been published extensively worldwide. One of her poems is orbiting the planet Mars on NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Her book, Shards of Crystal (Silver Bow Publishing 2018), is available on Amazon. Find Fern at ferngzcarr.com.
At a recent edition of Interior Dialogues, our workshop participants were asked to contribute a line to a group poem. This poem was edited by Al Rempel, our workshop presenter, and we are excited to share that work with you here.
Under a soft white sky, always here
It happens inside yourself
Up the hill and beside the big old western cedar
Bare feet on bare ground, lungs drawing breath
Here I reveal my underbelly and my plume with reckless abandon
Face East at sunrise where the swelling sky speaks of love
Not the center – the four winds remind us
Stroll on by the dog park
Segregate, two metres
Enough to swing a long-handled broom
Through a cloud of smoke and story churning
Around the ugly coffee table, you know the one
Peeling around the edges
You will see our hearts hanging on the front door
Home is a lighthouse welcoming the way
You’ll soon be safe, breathe in again, if you just follow the blue line
Across the sea in a yellow prow, round the boardwalk and up the stairs
We're looking for structure, seeking the word
The needle on my rusty compass seized at due North
Gazing at those gathered at the graveyard.
Or park a coffin
Westward, and moonward, and inward I go
Home is where my soul lives
Terra firms all the way from the ocean
Where the Whoodle waits in the window, wagging
“It is the star to every wandering bark”
staysit wait comehere wait stayput wait donothing wait
Five steps out of bed
As the anxiety bursts in my heart
It knows the place to soar to heal
Fly to the highest mountain you see, then land just north of that.
Travel north below the rainbow
Towards the squared-off blocky high-rise
Stop at the valley filled with writers, artists, mountains and sea.
Dive deep down your windpipe and onto your breath
Look for the sun showers
Nowhere to go after a walk but home
Back to the place of my youth - a place of longing
In the driveway go around the circle and there you are
You need a plan where you never lose sight
The horizon as it should be
“Called home” they used to say. What home?
Curve of the Kalum carving the beach
Voice of the north on the wind
Trust that your feet can follow your heart.
You won't go back the way you came
You'll have to go the unfamiliar route
Follow the smell of fir candle
The tide of your breath flows over me
Resonance, whatever it is -- hold it close and it will lead you home
You must climb a mountain in NSW, Australia
Yellow paper stars in the window
This thin coffee-stained paper slip is home
From the second annual Interior Dialogues.
For more sessions of Interior Dialogues, check out our Events page.
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